Guillermo del Toro on ‘Trollhunters’ Season 2, Expanding the Scope, and Looking Back on ‘The Strain’
From the limitless imagination of master storyteller Guillermo del Toro, the DreamWorks Animation series Trollhunters is a heroic tale that is thrilling for the entire family, as it follows an ordinary teenager named Jim (voiced by the late Anton Yelchin), who has stumbled upon a mystical amulet and inadvertently discovers an extraordinary secret civilization of trolls beneath his small town of Arcadia. The first human ever to hold the honor, 15-year-old Jim, along with his closest human friends and a few key troll allies, have joined the ancient battle of good and evil that has gone on for centuries and now threatens all of mankind and troll-kind alike.
Collider was recently invited to sit down with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro to chat 1-on-1 about all things Trollhunters, a project that he is clearly very proud of. During the interview, he talked about the bigger scope of Part 2 of the series, what he’s most excited about fans getting to see with this next installment of the story, how much of this world we’ll get to explore, the battle between light and dark, the addition of new characters, returning to voice the dentist, that there’s still so much of this story to tell, and always working towards the endpoint. He also talked about how he feels about the adaptation of The Strain, and how that approach affected the way that he went into the storytelling for Trollhunters.
Collider: How would you compare the scope of Part 2 of Trollhunters to that of Part 1?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: The scope is much bigger. It gets bigger, past this season. We go really crazy big. You start getting into the origins of the mythology, and you’re gonna go to bigger showdowns and different lands. What is great is that, at the same time, there’s the intimacy with the characters. Some episodes that are purely character oriented are also part of the season. Character humor and comedic melodrama are also part of the season. It’s beautiful.
What are you most excited about fans of the series getting to see with Part 2?
DEL TORO: I think that the introduction, or reintroduction, of some characters and hints of the mythology going deeper than you thought are the things that I’m most excited about. It has some of the best writing. I think we were really good, in the first 13 episodes, but I think we hit our stride, as a writing and production group, on the second 13 episodes. And here, we’re at our peak. We’re a really strong team. We know the vendors, we know the animators, we know the storyboarders, and we know who’s the strongest suited in the writers’ room. It’s a really beautiful season.
Are you surprised about how quickly people took to this show and how strongly they responded to it?
DEL TORO: I’m not surprised because what happened to me was exactly the same. When Rodrigo [Blaas] and I directed the two-part pilot, we really were incredibly charmed by the energy. We had a really great group. We were blessed with great actors. I went to almost all of the companies that were doing animation, and at every company, I would deliver a speech and tell them how we were trying to do feature animation on a TV budget. I said, “We’re gonna bring beauty. This is the way we’re gonna light the show. This is the cinematography. This is how we’re gonna make it different from every other show. We’re gonna have character moments. We’re gonna create mistakes that we’re gonna animate. We’re gonna take the time to do real character animation.” Then, we went to Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat and said, “Could you write a few themes?” And he said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” And then, we went to Kelsey Grammer, Anton Yelchin and Ron Perlman and said, “Come and do our show. We’re different from everybody else.” At the end of the day, when you have that much faith and love for something, and you bring enough people together who feel the same way, you’re surprised at how strong and beautiful it can be.
Trollhunters is really so beautiful to look at.
DEL TORO: From the beginning, I said that what I want is a show that is saturation in color, in a photographic way that you’ve never seen in animated TV. We do single source light through one window. We do overcast days. We’ve done rain. Nobody does rain. Nobody does overcast. Nobody does single source lighting. There were a lot of things that we were trying. Almost nobody does a show in which a character starts as the villain and ends up as part of the heroes, and where heroes are given horrible moments of darkness to go through.
How much more of Arcadia and Troll Market do we get to explore in Part 2? Will we be retreading familiar grounds there, or will we be seeing new places?
DEL TORO: You’ll go to the Darklands, which is new. The Troll Market, you’ve seen quite a bit. And Arcadia, you get to see a little more. You’ll go to different places that you haven’t been, in the season before. What you’re gonna get is the same look and the same beautiful, polished production values, and all of that, but there are a lot more character animation moments. The animation has a lot more nuance. The two or three vendors that have stuck with us, from season to season to season, now know the models and now know how to maximize those characters. There’s a lot of beautiful and nuanced stuff, in the second part.
How much of the Darklands will we get to explore?
DEL TORO: Quite a bit. Jim is there for awhile. You get to see what lives in the Darklands. It’s not just the enemies that we expect. There are very, very scary creatures living in the Darklands.
We got a look at Jim’s Eclipse armor in the Part 1 finale, and now the powers of both Daylight and Eclipse are his to command. How does the duality of light and dark, in the same person, play out for Jim in Part 2?
DEL TORO: That’s a theme that gets developed more in the next installment that we’re gonna have, but it starts in this installment. In the final part of Trollhunters, it will go to places that are really dark and unexpected for an animated series.
Did you return to voice the dentist in Part 2?
DEL TORO: Yes, I did. I voice the dentist, all the way. We said, “Let’s make the hairiest dentist in the history of dentistry!” It’s so much fun! I can tell you, we are way more advanced in the production line than this season, and I gave myself a juicy moment, towards the end.
What can you say about the new characters, voiced by Mark Hamill, Lena Headey and David Bradley?
DEL TORO: Lena plays Morgana, who is linked, along with Merlin, as played by David Bradley, to the origins of the amulet. The way that we wrote Merlin is not a way that you’ve ever seen. He’s not the wise wizard with the robe, who is gentle and good. He’s a hardcore, sociopathic guy, who knows the stakes, on a cosmic level. He’s not that caring about the man on the street. Morgana also has cosmic stakes at play. Lena is fantastic at communicating power, gravitas and authority, and David, who I worked with on The Strain and is part of the great mythologies of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, is playing a character that knows the big stakes, so he’s very rough with the human moments. We start his arc in Part 2. What follows next, you’re gonna come to be in awe of. It’s one of my favorite characters in the series. And with Mark Hamill, you don’t just put any voice to go against Kelsey Grammer, as his brother. From the beginning, we knew that we needed a legend to match a legend, and Mark Hamill has done some of the most disturbingly nuanced voice acting in animation. I thought he would be a perfect foil to Kelsey, and he was. I think the audience is going to see how the new characters revitalize everything and send the series in a new direction. There’s one particular character that I think people are going to be very, very surprised by the turn, and it happens in the Darklands. We reintroduce a character in the Darklands that I loved in Part 1. We had dismissed the character already, but I wanted him back because I loved him so much.
Does it feel like there’s still a lot of story to tell, in this world?
DEL TORO: Yes! When we started, over three weeks, we laid out the first 13 episodes. I said, “Well, this was a hard exercise. At least we’ll have a year to lay out the other 13.” But no, they were dropping the other 13, at the same time. But then, at the end of that 26, we wanted another 20 episodes. There’s a lot of story.
Does it get any easier, the more story that you tell?
DEL TORO: No! It’s a different way of knitting the story. When you knit for a movie, you’re knitting to a three-act arc, with a set-up, conflict and denouement. That’s basically what you’re doing. It’s been an incredible learning curve, as we lay it out for people to be able to watch, whether it’s one every week or they’re binge-watching, because you need to service both structures. It’s a different rhythm, and it’s great to lay it out because you learn a lot of tools.
Are you building towards a specific ending?
DEL TORO: Oh, yeah! You always build towards the ending. The ending is so powerful. I’m really proud. Somehow or another, we will get there.
Now that The Strain has come to an end, looking back on it, what are you most proud of, with that series and the way that it brought the books to life?
DEL TORO: I understand how Mike Mignola would have felt with Hellboy. Having written the books with Chuck Hogan, I thought I was fully prepared for changes, but I wasn’t. It’s almost like plastic surgery on your kid, that you love so much. You’re like, “No, I think the nose is perfectly fine!” It is not an easy process for me. That’s one of the reasons that when we started Trollhunters, I knew I was going to completely depart from the novel and reinvent the mythology. It’s almost a mixed message to have the book and try to follow the book, but change it. I told the writers’ team to read the book and read the script that I was developing, and then start from scratch, and riff on the characters and the world. Tonally, the series is very different from the book. The book is young adult. The series, for me, is for the whole family.
Trollhunters Pt. 2 is available to stream at Netflix on December 15th.